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Thursday, June 17, 2021

America's Last Public Hanging

     The United States has a long history of so-called "legal" public executions. The last one was carried out in Owensboro, Kentucky in 1936 when Rainey Bethea was hanged after his conviction for the rape and murder of a 70-year-old woman.

     Hundreds of reporters and photographers--some from as far away as New York and Chicago--were sent to Owensboro to cover what was then the country's first hanging conducted by a woman. At least 20,000 people descended on the town to witness the execution. Bethea walked toward the gallows shortly after sunrise and was pronounced dead at around 5:45 a.m. that day.

     In 1936, reporters blasted what they called the "Carnival in Owensboro." Many scholars say Bethea's execution--and the coverage it received--led to a banning of public executions in America.

National Public Radio, May 1, 2001

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